Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Idaho

After seeing all of the national park sites in the state of Washington (we only missed one – Lake Roosevelt NRA in northeastern Washington), we bid a sad adieu to Washington and headed east.  Well, it wasn’t all that sad.  We were pretty much ready to go.  But we didn’t go far.  We drove south into Utah, around the northern border of Salt Lake City, and then into Idaho where we stopped again.  After all, Idaho has some national park sites too!  And the first one up was Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument.

Hagerman Fossil Beds is located in Hagerman, Idaho, on the banks of the Snake River.  The bluffs along a curve in the Snake River have a large deposit of fossils from the Pliocene Epoch from 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago.  The most famous fossil discovered by paleontologists in the area is the Hagerman Horse, Equus simplicidens.  Twenty complete skeletons of this animal have been excavated.  The first excavation took place in Hagerman in 1929.  Since then, various museums, universities, and the National Park Service have sponsored excavations.  Saber-tooth cats, mastodons, camels, ground sloths, beavers, and antelope have also been found in the fossil beds.

Tom and I started, as always, at the Visitors Center in Hagerman.  We missed it the first time we drove by because it is tiny and attached to another building.  Everything in Hagerman is small, including the population.  The Visitors Center had one volunteer and one of the Hagerman Horse skeletons.  It also had a small display of other artifacts, and a short movie on the Fossil beds.  We asked about trails, but none of the trails go to the actual fossil beds.  One trail follows the Oregon Trail and another one descends the bluff to the Snake River.

We drove along the river to several overlooks where we could see the Hagerman Fossil Bed areas but no excavations were currently underway.  The overlooks gave us great views of the Snake River Valley spread out below us.  The overlook for the Oregon Trail was interesting.  We felt the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument did a better job interpreting the Oregon Trail than it did interpreting the Fossil Beds.  I will write more on the Oregon Trail in a future post.

The highlight of the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument was continuing our drive down the Snake River Valley.  We followed US 30 along the “Thousand Springs Scenic Byway.”  This area has a lot of natural springs that gush up from the Snake River Plains Aquifier and cascade down the cliffs along the Snake River.  Waterfalls abound and it is very scenic.